A 'famille-rose' porcelain moulded and enamelled 'double-gourd' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Qianlong seal mark and of the period, 17361760 5.12cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1151
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and slightly concave foot; moulded in the form of a double gourd with two loop handles, the surface with a moulded and painted design of a fruiting, leafy, gourd-vine on a pale orange-beige ground with a dense formalized scrolling floral design in gold; the lip and interior of the neck also gold; the interior covered with colourless glaze; the foot painted in black seal script Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period') Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 17361760 Height: 5.12 cm Mouth/lip: 0.61/1.08 cm Stopper: gilt bronze chased with a formalized floral design
Condition: very minor natural pitting of some enamels used as part of the design on the gourds, where the pits have been edged in some places with dabs of red enamel to look like variations in the rind of the fruit; not at all obtrusive, even where not used; otherwise, in extraordinary, kiln condition and apparently barely, if ever, used.
Provenance: J & J Collection Eric Young Sotheby's, London, 3 March 1987, lot 64, (front cover illustration)
Published: Arts of Asia, JulyAugust 1987, p. 118 JICSBS, Summer 1987, p. 22 Art at Auction, 19861987, p. 380 Kleiner 1987, no. 220 Kleine Schätze aus China, p. 9 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 139 Kleiner 1995, no. 191 Moss 2009, p. 12, fig. 15 Treasury 6, no. 1151
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: This is one of a well-known group of almost identical bottles, presumably made as one or more sets in series. Others are in the J & J Collection, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 231 (the duplication prompted the disposal of the present bottle some years ago); Lady David 1973, no. 836; JICSBS, Summer 1988, inside cover; Geng and Zhao, no. 122 (also appearing in China Guardian, Beijing, 1 June 1967, lot 1173, and again in Hanhai, Beijing, 5 July 1999, lot 1603); Li Jiufang 2002, no. 311 (which is also in Zhu and Xia 1988, plate 51; from the imperial collection), and Christie's, New York, 2 December 1993, lot 466 (also in Lam 2003, p. 13, fig. 15; from the Denis Low Collection).
This bottle is moulded in two parts that are joined vertically, the joint visible on the inside but not on the outside. It shares with the Tang Ying bottles the thinness and delicacy of the porcelain body; it has a similar seal mark in black enamel and a very similar tiny floral scroll in gold on a coloured ground. The quality is also exceptional, both in the painting of the design and the firing of the enamels. We are probably safe in assuming that it was made during the earlier part of the reign, perhaps as early as the 1740s. It is not at all out of place among the high-quality wares made under the supervision of Tang Ying, and now that we have proof of high-quality early-Qianlong porcelain snuff-bottle production at Jingdezhen, there is no reason to believe that this was not part of it.
All of the early-Qianlong bottles made at Jingdezhen under the supervision of Tang Ying or benefiting from the high level of artistic and technical quality he brought to the kilns are masterly; this is no exception. Apart from the thinness of the body and the delicate formal balance between the upper and lower bulbs of the form, the composition is extremely well thought out. The painting is exquisite, just as it was on the J & J bottle, where we noted the elegance of the brushwork, particularly in the painting of the leaves with their well-controlled, beautifully modulated black lines on green enamel.
It may be fruitful to link this small series of early-Qianlong masterpieces to a certain order from the emperor in 1758 (twelfth month) for 'nine gourd-shaped snuff bottles' to be made at Jingdezhen based upon one of three samples sent down from the court. The samples in the imperial order are described as yangci ('foreign porcelain'); despite the ambiguity as to the precise meaning of this term in the mid-eighteenth century, it seems likely that the three samples sent down to Jingdezhen were porcelain rather than enamelled metal. From this order, we can therefore posit the existence of two series of such bottles, the later series known to have been limited to nine pieces; if the two series constituted the total production, half a dozen is a plausible number to have survived. Linking the surviving bottles to the 1758 order also explains why the relief gourds appear to be in different positions on some bottles: each series was made with its own mould, resulting in minor changes to the positioning of the relief elements.